Sunday, June 1, 2014

Feeling Fluent

When I meet someone new the following conversation usually arises:

New Person: What are you studying?
Me: Social work
New Person: Oh, going for the big bucks huh? So you study in hebrew?
Me: Ya, my lectures are all in hebrew and I have field work where I see patients in hebrew.
New Person: So, you speak hebrew fluently?

At this point in the conversation I always pause before answering. Do I speak hebrew fluently? I don’t feel like I do. Isn’t that odd? I’ve lived in Israel for almost 5 years (including my year in seminary). I take busses, order food, speak to the bank, see doctors, go shopping, attend lectures, chit chat with friends, ask for directions, treat patients, and get direction from my boss all in hebrew. But I don’t “feel fluent”. I function as a citizen, a client, a patient, a customer, a student, a friend, a therapist, and an employee all in hebrew. But I don’t “feel fluent”. I speak in hebrish, I have times when I’m in “hebrew mode” (thinking and speaking only in hebrew), I have even dreamed in hebrew. But I don’t “feel fluent”.

I have a pretty good vocabulary for an immigrant, but whether I’m in a lecture, with a patient or friend, or just on the street, Israelis will say words to me that I simply don’t recognize. Sometimes I can figure it out from context, sometimes I’ll ask about that word, and sometimes I smile and nod hoping that’s the appropriate reaction. I constantly make grammatical errors- some I hear and correct myself and many more I’m sure I’m not even aware of. When writing something for school I misspell many words and thank G-d for spell check and kind classmates who will proofread my work. So is it any wonder I don’t “feel fluent”?

I don’t know that I will ever “feel fluent”. I hope that over the years my hebrew will continue to improve, as it has since I made aliyah. I’m sure I will continue to learn new words to add to my vocabulary. I will learn more grammatical rules that I will mess up and correct myself on while speaking. And everyone will know I’m American anyway because I can never roll my “reishes”.

So for now, and maybe even forever, my answer to your question New Person is “Well, fluent enough”.


  1. Yup. So true. I would say that there is a difference between native fluent and immigrant fluent. If 10 is native and 1 is immigrant fluent. What number are you? I would say, 3 or 4 maybe.

  2. גבי, תודה על השיתוף! את מדהימה וחזקה! תהיתי לעצמי אם אני הייתי ככה לא מוותרת. והולכת למקצוע בו השפה שבה המקצוע מתאפיין אינה שפת האם שלי.. וכשאני חושבת על זה, אני מעריכה אותך עוד יותר על האומץ ועל הנחישות!
    אני בטוחה שתמשיכי להצליח ולהגיע לאן שתרצי מעצמך! :)

    1. איזה מתאים לקבל תשובה בעברית! תודה שירז :)